Austin makes a lot of top-ten lists these days. From Buzzfeed’s 35 Things Everyone Should Do in Austin to KUT’s 24 Things Buzzfeed Didn’t Mention that Austinites ALSO Love, there is no lack of suggestions for things to do, places to see and tacos to eat while visiting Austin.
I had the opportunity to create my own list of suggestions for a road-tripping friend who spent a month in Austin.
But as a native of the Austin area and a 22-year resident of Austin proper, my list focused on a few less trendy spots that I love.
One of my favorite places to walk is the Austin State Hospital, just a few blocks from my house. The main building was completed in 1861, and the sprawling campus has a mix of old and newer buildings, old oak, pecan, magnolia, pine, and catalpa trees, and a hard-to-find merry-go-round.
The Southwest Greenway at Mueller lake is another urban oasis. A 10-foot-wide hike and bike trail made of decomposed granite surrounds restored Texas blackland prairie incorporating native plants in partnership with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. And where else but Austin do you have giant sculptures of pollen spores?
Mayfield Park and Preserve is one of my most beloved places in the city. I’ve taken my two boys there since they were tiny tykes, and we have a special secret spot where we eat our breakfast tacos, watch peacocks and plan our day.
Reveille Peak Ranch is just an hour northwest of Austin and open for mountain biking and trail running every weekend. It’s also a hidden gem in the camping world. (Full disclosure: they are a client, but still an absolute treasure and I go out there as often as I can!)
Kayaking on Town Lake/Lady Bird Lake is a great way to beat the heat and escape the crowds. Head upstream on the Colorado toward Redbud Island and Tom Miller dam and you’ll see tons of turtles, green herons, and blue herons and their nests.
Much is written about the best tacos in Austin, but for my money, old school is best. We are hard-core Taco Shack aficionados, but for visitors, I like to take them to try the following:
Julio’s. This Hyde Park gem is best known for its roasted chicken plate, but it makes a mighty fine breakfast locale. I go for bacon, egg and avocado on corn, with a side of fruit.
Foodhead’s. People have discovered Foodhead’s for lunch, but breakfast is the perfect time to be there (and little-known secret, they serve lunch all day, even at breakfast). I love to get a table by the window and look through the old wavy glass to the patio with cheery oilcloth-covered tables.
People’s Pharmacy. Tacos made from organic, pasture-raised eggs, plus smoothies and a wide range of healthy, gluten-free deli items to grab for a later lunch.
When I was a child, we used to take visiting relatives to the LBJ Library. It’s still a great spot to visit, especially since its recent revamp, and it’s also my favorite picnic site in Austin. Bring a blanket, more tacos, a ball, some friends, and watch the world reflected in the fountain.
The James Turrell’s Skyspace, a newly opened art installation on the University of Texas campus, is just breathtaking. Sit on warm basalt bench and watch the drastic color changes between smooth LED-lit walls and the skylight. It’s open all day, but the more interesting color shifts happen at sunrise and sunset. Learn more and make a reservation here.
Every Friday and Saturday while UT is in session the Department of Astronomy hosts free viewing on the Painter Hall Telescope. Both Friday and Saturday nights are open to the general public. Painter Hall is located at the corner of 24th street and Inner Campus Drive, just to the north of the UT Tower.
What are your favorite spots to take friends in Austin?